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Landes' magic does trick for Hagerstown, Suns

October 01, 2006|by BOB PARASILITI

It's human nature to rely on hindsight.

That "after the fact" look is always 20-20. It is the perfect view. It's life's version of being a Monday Morning Quarterback.

In other words, you don't realize how good something is until it's gone.

The city of Hagerstown lost a great friend this week. Looking back, it will be a real eye-opener.

This advocate worked to improve and defend the image of this town. In many ways, he fought for those virtues while this town seemed to kick and scream against him.

Kurt Landes left the Hagerstown Suns' front office this week with an abrupt resignation. His next stop is still a mystery (it will be announced Wednesday) but he is leaving Hagerstown, the Suns and his employer, Mandalay Baseball Properties.

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His departure from all three will leave a void. It's a void that will be filled, but it's hard to imagine that it will ever be the same.

Landes did amazing things in his five-plus years in Hagerstown. That magic was often greeted with general disinterest by a stubborn, generally disinterested public.

Landes was the kind of guy who loved screaming at the rain. Most of the times, there was very little he could do to move the mountain stacked against the Suns. But he was diligent, even if it meant moving those mountains a shovelful at a time.

He made the most of what he was given - which wasn't much. He came to Hagerstown to take control of an underachieving and ignored franchise with a shrinking fan base and community image. He had limited funds, eroding assets and antiquated and dilapidated facilities by today's standards.

Yet with enthusiasm, ingenuity, imagination, salesmanship, creativity and a lot of hard work, Landes became the flag bearer who not only has the Suns turning the corner, he almost single-handedly got them to the corner.

Landes was all about promoting the Suns. His message was clearly stated in the team's jingle:

"It's not baseball anymore. It's family fun and a whole lot more ..."

In the minor leagues, affiliations and players come and go. Winning and losing are relative. In Landes' world, a baseball game was just a reason to throw 70 family-oriented parties a summer.

Baseball games were never considered the main reason to be at Municipal Stadium. They were the added incentive. The old ballyard was the tool to bring friends together and meet new ones, to enjoy picnic food in the outdoors, allow the kids to roam in the fresh air, while possibly winning a prize, catching a foul ball or getting an autograph.

The goal for people to leave saying they had a good time ... and "Oh yeah, the Suns won ... I think."

Landes fought, ignoring the advice of only fighting the battles you can win.

He continued to push for a new or remodeled stadium to help make the games more pleasant for fans and players alike. He made strides to improve the facilities to make sure the team would remain in Hagerstown.

He battled city and county governments for everything from stadium improvements to fireworks shows. In turn, he made good on his promise to make the Suns an important contributor to the area's way of life.

Along the way, Landes' promotions and tactics were sometimes surprising, many times quirky and zany. Some were coated in controversy.

It didn't matter, The goal of nearly every one of them was to make people across the country take notice of Hagerstown and the Suns. His gimmicks have been copied and were written about in national magazines and on Internet sites.

Landes built a reputation by rebuilding the Suns. He did it all without even being a native son.

In his five-year tenure, Suns attendance has grown 50 percent to go along with the media attention. The Suns have become a community player, offering camps and clinics while reaching out to the community with various charitable, educational and entertainment events.

In his final act, Landes brought local focus back to the Suns, forging a two-year agreement to become a Washington Nationals affiliate. The final stroke was a major move to infuse yet more excitement into the franchise, while eliminating one of the major complaints of the disinterested general public.

Now, fans will be able to follow the players who play here and see them possibly eventually play down the road or every night on TV. It's a throwback to when the Baltimore Orioles were here from 1981-92.

Time will tell if that could mean greater attendance and/or a new stadium for the local team.

But Landes won't be here to see it.

In his own way, he made Hagerstown a better place to live.

And if Hagerstown has any hindsight, it might realize it and keep the momentum growing.

Bob Parasiliti is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2310, or by e-mail at bobp@herald-mail.com.

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